Yellow Brix Restaurant – Carlsbad, New Mexico
Gastronomes (people with sensitive and discriminating culinary tastes), cerevisaphiles (aficionados of beers and ales) and oenophiles (connoisseurs of wines) have a vernacular of their own. Most of us need a universal translator to understand what they’re saying when they’re waxing eruditely about their passions. The commonality among the three is their pursuit of sensual pleasures, an indulgence of the senses. Being singularly passionate about one of these epicurean pursuits doesn’t necessarily mean you’re conversant in the vernacular of another.
Case in point, as we were enjoying our al fresco dining experience at the Yellow Brix patio in Carlsbad, I contemplated what theme to wrap my review around. Yellow brick road? Nah, too cheesy. Bricks as a foundation for success? Too boring. Bricks as in yet another of my jump shots bouncing off the rim? Too embarrassing. Fortunately the couple on the table to our left bailed me out. Obviously “grape nuts” (yes, that’s a synonym for oenophile), they were speaking what seemed to be Klingon as they raised their glasses to their lips and sipped in a manner that was both studious and appreciative. Terms such as “tannin,” “body,” “terroir” and “brix” were interspersed with conversations about the day’s activities.
What the heck could “bricks” possibly have to do with wine, I wondered. Could there possibly be a grape-pressing method involving the use of bricks? And does the restaurant’s name Yellow Brix portend something about the color of bricks used in the grape-pressing process? It finally dawned on me that the key might not be in the pronunciation “bricks,” but in the spelling “brix.” As it turns out, when our neighbors were using the term “brix,” they were talking about a way to measure grapes to determine how much alcohol a wine will have. It’s not as complicated as Stephen Hawkings gravitational singularity theorems as Wine Folly explains below.
“Brix (°Bx) is a way to measure the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s made by determining the sugar level in grapes. Each gram of sugar that’s fermented will turn into about a 1/2 gram of alcohol. Of course, different winemaking techniques will affect the final alcohol content, which is why Brix is interesting to us inquisitive wine explorers.” It’s very scientific, much like molecular gastronomy principles where techniques from chemistry and physics are used to transform the textures of food into innovative eating experiences. Sous-vide anyone?
Yellow Brix does indeed have an impressive wine list…and the edifice is constructed of yellow bricks, an architecturally beautiful and historic yellow-brick home built in 1928. Some eight decades later (2011) owners Dan and Barbara Remplel began the conversion to a commercial restaurant with the goal of preserving the historic integrity of this stately home. Initially they launched as a unique coffeehouse, but toward the end of their first year they decided to offer more to the community of Carlsbad, transitioning into the full service restaurant it is today.
Its website indicates “YellowBrix Restaurant strives to be the epicurean restaurant of choice for the community of Carlsbad.” If our inaugural visit is any indication, it’s a wonderful community gathering space that would be right at home anywhere. “Anywhere” doesn’t necessarily have Carlsbad’s moderate climes. We had our first al fresco dinner for 2018 on a short-sleeve worthy March day on the Yellow Brix patio with our debonair dachshund The Dude. The interior dining room is beautiful, but the patio is the place to be. It’s well lit and shielded from the North Canal Street traffic. Portable patio heaters stood at the ready should they be needed, but it was warm for the entire duration of our stay.
The Yellow Brix menu bespeaks of a guest-centric mission statement: “We believe in providing an exceptional dining experience and unbelievable food. We offer an extensive selection of lunch, dinner, and kid’s items made from scratch every day, that are sure to satisfy any appetite. For even more favors, we have incredible salmon, prime rib, pork chops, margarita chicken and grilled steak options you won’t find anywhere else. After dinner, we welcome you to try our famous cheesecake or homemade gelato, while sipping one of our specialty coffee drinks. We even roast our own beans!” Sure enough, the menu gave us plenty to contemplate.
While the starters menu included an inviting array of tempting appetizers, we wanted to try something heretofore new to us. The roasted grape salad (baby spinach with fresh roasted grapes, craisins, candied walnuts and goat cheese with brandied vanilla dressing) did the trick. Sure we’ve had roasted grapes on salads before, but that brandied vanilla dressing heralded something special. Brandy, with its depth of nuanced flavors, was easily discerned. Its pairing with a thin (not quite the consistency of pudding) sheen of vanilla is something we’ll try to reconstruct at home. The brandy counterbalanced the sweetness away from the vanilla and proved an excellent foil to the tart, earthiness of the goat cheese. Similarly, the juicy grapes provided a nice textural contrast to the candied walnuts. This salad was a pleasant surprise!
With her entree, my Kim had her choice of sides, all inviting, but it was the chicken tortilla soup (vegetables, chicken breast, avocado, cheese and tortilla chips) which beckoned. At far too many New Mexican restaurants, chicken tortilla soup is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, usually “good enough” but rarely memorable. Yellow Brix’s version is in rarefied air as one of the most satisfying of its ilk we’ve ever had. Not only is the portion size generous (brimming), the ingredients are of high quality and prepared well. Each vegetable contributed mightily to our enjoyment as did notes of musky achiote. After you’ve dispensed with all the vegetables, this is a soup you’ll want to slurp up.
Thinking she would certainly order one of the chef-cut char-grilled Angus steaks, my carnivorous Kim surprised me by requesting the roasted half chicken (herb-rubbed and served with chimichurri). Admittedly she had seen the pulchritudinous poultry platter destined for other tables. She would never otherwise eschew a good steak. What made this particular chicken a great choice was the chimichurri. There are many variations of this popular Argentinian meat sauce. Yellow Brix’s rendition is among the best we’ve had. It’s a complex (not complicated) sauce in that it imprints itself on your taste buds in so many different places. Kim’s only regret is not having requested a second portion. It enlivened an otherwise ordinary chicken.
My entree choice actually came from the starters menu where I couldn’t get past the Sashimi tuna (seared ahi slices with wasabi, ginger and a hot-spiced soy sauce). It was a nice choice though the soy-wasabi combination was a bit on the salty side, making me crave vinegared rice, the element on sushi that makes it less salty. Sans soy and wasabi, the seared ahi was beautiful in both appearance and flavor. Perfectly pink and rare, the ahi was moist and delicious. Nine thinly sliced little slabs of sumptuous ahi made for a great entree indeed.
Not only did Yellow Brix feed us, well, our visit taught me a new term to use on my oenophile friends. For al fresco pet-friendly dining in Carlsbad, there’s no better option!
Yellow Brix Restaurant
201 North Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Sashimi Tuna, Roasted Half Chicken, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Roasted Grape Salad
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1032